I just finished the most interesting and valuable article. Well, I didn’t just finish it. I actually read it yesterday morning but I have been thinking about it since and I pulled it up and re-read it again this morning. It was written by Jennifer Weil Malatras, Ph.D. and it reports findings from recent research studies that indicate that establishing a schedule and maintaining family routines provides children with a sense of order, predictability, and security.
That’s not new news, of course. We have known for years that children thrive on routines and predictability. Knowing what’s coming next, knowing what is expected, and what will and will not be tolerated orders and structures their day. By the time we reach adulthood, we know that routines help. We have learned over time that if we put our keys and our phone in the same place every day, we don’t have to go on a frantic search later on. Our regular morning routine that helps us get our day off to a good start. You know how disconcerting it is when you sleep in someone else’s house and you have to go to work in the morning.
It’s the same with kids. They need some structure, of knowing where things are, of doing the same routine each morning to function efficiently. One of the first recommendations we offer to parents of children with ADHD is to structure the day so that things happen at about the same time and in the same way every day. When I work with youngsters with challenging behavior, I almost always ask about morning routines and bedtime routines. If you can’t get your kids to bed at night and/or you can’t get them up in the morning, the child has way too much control. It’s time for parents to regain control and to establish routines that eventually benefit everyone in the house.
What is important about the new research is that it analyzed the effects of family routines on a wide range of outcomes. In addition to better sleep quality and sleep habits, family routines were also associated with fewer behavior problems in children and less depression and anxiety in adolescents and adults. Note the more important finding is that family routines also have a positive effect on the development of self-regulation. We know that by age five, children should be able to control their emotions and by age eight they should be able to self-regulate.
Another critical discovery in research with college students is that a stable family environment is associated with fewer attention problems in late adolescence and early adulthood. If you are raising children and you have not yet established well-defined daily and weekly family routines, please give it serious consideration. The research is clear, stable and predictable family routines are associated with better sleep, fewer behavior problems, fewer attention problems, enhanced self-regulation, and less depression and anxiety later in life.
The lovely thing about establishing family routines is that it’s something that every parent can do. It doesn’t cost money, it requires no special training, and they can start immediately. Our advice is to start small and add to it gradually as you succeed. Start with a new mealtime routine; once you have achieved that, establish a new homework routine. Then go on to the more difficult ones, like bedtime and morning routines.
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